In the twenty-plus years I’ve connected with youth in the church, I’ve tried to establish meaningful ways of showing them what it means to walk with Jesus. Now, in youth ministry, there are serious ways of doing that. But there are also plenty of not-at-all serious ways of doing that. From time to time I still like to talk about when I had youth make sculptures from chewing gum.
I should mention it was chewed chewing gum.
Oh, there were plenty of “ewws” and “this is gross,” but it gave us a chance to talk about being formed in God’s image. Hopefully, that lesson stuck.
Last year, I read a book about youth ministry. I recommend it to anyone who works with young people. It is called “Sticky Faith Innovation.” There’s a lot to discuss in the book, but its thesis centers on one thing. That one thing is that youth need to learn Jesus-centered answers.
The church, you and I, need to teach youth Jesus-centered answers. As much as things have changed in our world, the need to direct our hearts to the Lord has not. And yet, too often, we let our youth down because we don’t change our methods of answering their questions.
Two decades ago, I studied computer networking. I had a firm grasp of the subject and could set up and manipulate networks with ease. Then I stopped studying and working with computer networks. How good do you think I’m at it now? Think of how much technology has entered the field in twenty years. Even though I may know some basics, I’m not the one you want to answer your computer networking questions.
In a lot of ways, that describes where the church is with helping young people follow Jesus.
We love the Lord and we love our kids, but we haven’t made the leap to change the ways we engage both. Then we blame the university or the world for corrupting them. The harsh truth is, as a whole, we haven’t taught them how to find the Jesus-centered answers they need to live as faithful disciples of Jesus.
So, let’s talk about what questions they’re asking. According to “Sticky Faith Innovation,” there are three. These questions sum up a young person’s life experience. Just about every decision they make centers around answering them. And if they aren’t taught how to find Jesus-centered answers, they won’t stop asking the questions. They’ll just find answers wherever they can: music, movies, pop culture, social groups, etc.
The three questions are: Who am I? Where do I fit? What difference can I make?
Reflect on those questions and you can appreciate the decisions youth make. You may not agree with them or like the decisions, but it begins to make sense why they do and say what they do.
In fact, when Gloria and I talked about this before, she was quick to point out that these are questions adults wrestle with.
Let’s not only wish and hope our youth grow up to be faithful adults. Let’s not keep our kids busy with church-y stuff, hoping that does the trick. Instead, let’s be willing to do whatever we need to do to prepare them to find Jesus-centered answers. Those answers will guide them today as young people and when they’re older.
Jesus-centered answers will bring you back to what we read in Genesis.
God created us.
Who am I? I am a child of God created in God’s image. Where do I fit? There was no rain or anyone to till the ground, so God brought humanity in as a partner. What difference can I make? Centered on the goodness and grace of God, I can show the world just how much they are loved.
Those answers shape everything about who I am. And I want to make sure our young people and everyone else asking those three questions learn how to find Jesus-centered answers.